A little thing that can change a lot.

This spring – right before all the craziness with Covid-19 – I have started meditating, for the first time in my life. Nobody encouraged me to do that. No one recommended an app or some YouTube channel to listen to. It happened spontaneously. It came to me naturally. Since last year I have started having anxiety. It probably had roots in my family’s financial problems and my own personal conflicts. Once, in April, I was taking a walk to clear my mind, calm down my nerves, and stop negative thoughts. And I couldn’t do it. I realized at that moment that I could not control my anxiety anymore. It controlled me. It became this grotesque monster, eating me from the inside. I felt hopeless. I understood I needed help. Absentmindedly, I clicked on the audio-book app and downloaded the first available mediation book.

Truly best choice I had made at that moment. The audio-book turned out to be the perfect meditation guide for beginners. For 21 days, it had daily 10-minute tracks which introduced basic things about meditation. I remember turning on the first track during my walk, and a soft, soothing female voice reassured me that everything would be okay. I would figure it out. Life was beautiful and problems were momentarily. And peace was still possible despite the anxiety. 10 minutes was enough for me to understand I wanted to do it every day. This absolute harmony of mind and body could be addictive. And I did not mind that positive addiction.

It did become a healthy habit for me. Rarely there is a day when I don’t meditate now. It has been 5 months since I started meditating, and my desire has been only increasing to make it part of my life – forever. Every day these 20 minutes (I now meditate for more than 10 mins) are the blissful moments of relaxation of the body and stillness of the mind. Every time it is different. Every day I learn something about myself. It is kind of cool to watch your own mind, notice when it drifts away, and bring it back to the present moment. You feel so powerful by letting it go.

I think one needs to grow up to meditate. To my shame, I used to have wrong assumptions about meditation and people who did it. I used to be friends with someone who would meditate for 3 hours a day, and I thought he was insane, spending so much time in the world of the mind, instead of living in reality. I thought it was crazy to meditate every day. I was really immature. I judged. I needed to grow up and discover meditation years later. It is funny how things turn out in our lives and how much we change.

If you struggle with anger issues, depression, anxious thoughts, pessimism, I do encourage you to try meditation. It made me feel so much better. I believe it will do the same to you. It can be a little thing that can change a lot in you and your life.

Keep calm and choose meditation.

Online Fall

The trees have stared changing their bright-green color, and a new semester has slowly crawled up to us. Here we are – September, 2020 – the year of Covid-19, quarantine, and online studying for everyone involved in the education. In Canada, most schools resumed in-person classes while the universities opted for online education for the whole semester. The decision about Winter semester has not been made yet, but I feel that Covid-related cases will soon go up and the second lock-down is very real in the near future.

Last week was the first time I used Zoom after two months of a summer break. I was nervous to meet up to 200 students online – I am teaching five different courses at two universities this semester. It is such a strange feeling to see my students as little boxes of moving faces instead of me standing in front of the audience and reading everyone’s body language, hearing the tone of their voices, and feeling the overall atmosphere of the room. Even though the first impression can be wrong, seeing someone in person gives you the much-needed information to establish a healthy relationship – compared to meeting a person behind the screen for the first time and trying to catch as much emotion as possible from a tiny square in which everyone is enclosed. It is such a fragmented sense of people and environment.

What I noticed right away this semester is that if before, the students would come to my class and rarely talk to each other to make friends as all of them were from different departments, and they met together in this classroom only for the required English course – if before it was like that, now, I guess, after months of no social contact and isolation, they are really hungry for communication, thirsty for any human contact. I noted this right away. They told me they were happy I chose Zoom (not asynchronous type of teaching) to meet regularly and discuss the material. They did not mind turning on their cameras. They wrote 100! messages in the chat (one of Zoom options) during our first class to greet each other and exchange their social media information. And you know, I am happy that my class can contribute, even a little bit, to the students’ feeling of belonging, sense of community, and healthy communication in these lonely times.

So, here we are – Fall semester. Cameras are on, volume up, zoom in and zoom out. It is new. It is weird. But at least we are all in this together. So, let’s get the best of this year and have maybe-the most memorable semester in our life. Zoom-zoom!

Behind the screen

We do live in the world where texting is slowly replacing calling or talking in person. Texting is easy, fast, convenient. Very often, you can hide your true emotions behind the texts as, no matter how good an emoji you choose, it cannot replace your face expression, your voice or intonation, your eyes, and body language. It simply cannot. There is limitation to texting. Lack of personal touch, emotional note.

Yesterday one of my best friends called me, crying, to say that her boyfriend broke up with her. They have dated for almost a year. Living in different cities, they managed to come see each other almost every two weeks. They spent all their vacation days with each other, and in summer they lived together for two months. They got to know the families and friends of each other. They had plans for future. They wanted to be together. Until yesterday.

Yesterday he broke up with my friend. And he did it over a text message. He wasn’t ready for commitment or anything serious. And while he explained to her in great detail what was not working for him, the text message left so many things unanswered. My friend was in the state of shock. She called me to ask for help, and we talked for hours. I felt so much pain for her. I cried for her loss. And while it was about her heartbreak, it also brought so many memories for me.

I’ve also had an experience of getting this kind of goodbye texts from boyfriends. These texts were from someone I spent years with. Someone I was ready to share my life with. Somebody we decided to move in together. Yet, despite that, their choice of break-up was sending a text message and being done with it. And while I could understand the reason for separation, I could never understand the way it was done – through a poor text message.

If you had the desire to spend weeks, months or years with one person. If you let this person into your life. If you shared good, bad, or usual days with him or her. If you kissed their lips, their face, their body. If you let them into your circle of friends and family. If you took them seriously. If you let them open their heart and trust you. If you said your first “I love you” to their face, have the courage to say goodbye while looking in their eyes. I know it is extremely hard to reject or hurt someone, and you might think text message is an easier way to let that person go, but it is easier for you. Not for them. You end up hurting them two times: first, by not reciprocating their feeling of love; and, second, by not respecting them enough to say it in person, to look in their eyes and say honestly: I do not love you anymore.

Don’t break up with your partner over a text message. You might have your valid reasons to end relationships, but end them in a humane way. Cell phones do not have a heart, but you do. Show your emotions to this person for the last time. Don’t hide behind the screen. Don’t.

(Boundaries)

All the recent self-help books talk about the importance of boundaries in our life. To maintain your own inner peace and harmony, you got to set boundaries, especially with the closest people in your environment. Mothers, fathers, siblings, partners, children, friends. Boundaries are needed when you feel unwanted influence, interference, or undesirable participation in your life.

Up till the age of 32, I have never set up healthy boundaries. I’ve let myself be affected by other opinions, judgement, advice, criticism, and influence. My flexibility or even dependence has played a bad joke on me. I’ve struggled to make my own decisions, always doubting myself and seeking advice from the closed ones. When my close people criticized me, I instantly agreed with them, without questioning for a second. I could not defend myself when I heard hurtful things I did not agree with. I did things for friends or family even though I was against them. I listened to everyone without hearing my own voice. I let people decide what kind of life I should have and what kind of person I should be.

Only now I have started realizing that and setting up my own boundaries. I am slowly teaching myself to listen to my heart first and then hear others opinions. I am learning to pause before agreeing right away. If my partner gives me the instant solution to my problem, I do not follow the advice immediately. I ask myself: Is this really what I would do without his advice? When my sibling pours negativity in the message, I answer with a simple positive statement without letting myself get drowned in the pool of pessimism. If my parents or his parents judge how I live or what I do, I stop myself from reacting to that and keep doing what I want to do. I am learning to say ‘No’ more often. I am learning to protect myself from unwanted guidance or emotional impact.

It is hard. Damn hard because people get hurt. They think that you distance yourself from them. That you don’t want to be close anymore or that their opinion means nothing to you. In these moments, you want to break down and let it go. Agree and follow. Isn’t it easier for everyone? For who? For you? Or for them? Exactly in these moments, the hardest times, you have to stand strong and resist the temptation of being the old you. You are your new self. You are setting the boundaries even if you think it is too late. Better late than never.

love-hate relationships

Relationships with the city you are living in are as complicated as relationships you are having with a loved one. Sometimes it is love at first sight. Often times, love fades away and you see another side of the city.

The first time I saw Taipei from the window of the airplane, I instantly felt it was a city of insane energy and endless fun. I fell in love with it the minute I landed and took the first breath of city air. A strange, unfamiliar smell promised a new adventure and a different life. I was in love for the first time. In love with a person, and in love with a new city. Every day I woke up with the feeling of excitement to be living in one of the coolest metropolitan cities in Asia. Hundreds of events were happening in all parts of the city. Every day I tried a new restaurant, and every day I was pleasantly surprised by something new. I was deeply in love, and I felt the city loved me back. I liked how cheap street food was. How sunny and hot the days were. How different the fashion style people had. How beautiful the palm trees looked at the university I was studying at. I loved how often I got compliments about my looks. How friendly all the vendors were. How organized the public transport was. How much of the nightlife I had. I liked everything and everyone at this moment. I was in love.

I loved this city for the whole one year. I broke up with my first love in a year, and something happened to my relationships with the city as well. Involuntarily, I started seeing a different side of it. And I hated it. I hated the intense, never-ending humidity when nothing ever dried out overnight. I hated having ants and lizards in my room (hello, subtropical climate). I hated the bland taste of steamed vegetables in the restaurants. I hated having rice 3 times a day. I hated being always the tallest person in the bus. I hated the times when people wanted to take a picture of me without trying to talk to me or be my friend. I hated the fact that no matter how much I studied the Chinese language, I could never have deep conversations and form close friendships with Taiwanese people. I hated meaningless parties, hangovers, and phone numbers of random guys who never wanted commitment. I hated being alone without family and friends. I hated being a foreigner. I fell out of love.

It was love-hate relationships with the city. Many years later, when I moved to live in another city, another country, I formed new relationships with a new city, but I never forgot Taipei. It was my first pure love – beautiful and ugly at the same time. And even though I left the city on a bad note with many heavy feelings in my heart, I remember it now in warm, bright colors. And I do want to give this city another chance. After all, don’t we all deserve a second chance?

Every puppy is unique

Last week we finally met our puppy Taco. We had been preparing for him for the last 2 months, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs and articles, stocking house with all the necessary pet stuff. Last week we finally met him and fell in love at first sight and sniff. Even though it has been only a week living with him, we have already learned so much about this adorable floofy doof.

Here are the things we discovered about Taco during his first week at our home:

— his coat is mostly chocolate, but he has a white spot on his chin, and it looks like he has just been eating sour cream and spilled it on himself 🐶

— when he is super excited about his hooman, he runs and gives a smooch on the lips, just like a human being 💋

— he is a big fan of flowers and plants: he cannot pass anything green without smelling and tasting it. We think he was a botanist in another life 🌿

— he loves chasing ants, and their fast moves make him really excited and playful 🐜

— when he is in an unknown situation, he gets very clingy and does want to let you go: he is a very sensitive boy 😊

— he falls asleep while we drive in a car. He is definitely a car loving puppy 🚙

— he prefers yogurt to peanut butter and banana to apple 🍌

— he has hiccups after too much playing and being too agitated🤭

— during our walks, he has a habit of sitting down in the middle of the street refusing to go further, and it takes a lot of effort to push him to continue the walk; we still haven’t figured out what he wants to say by that 🤔

— he loves the sight of leaves whirling in the wind — it mesmerizes him 🍃

— in a deep sleep, he has dreams and shakes his paws as if running away from a wolf 🐾

— he loves chewing hair and beard of his owners 😈

— sometimes when he wants to sleep near you, he would put his face on your neck. We think it is an old habit of puppies sleeping on each other when being born. It is definitely something that brings him comfort and peace 😴

— overall, he is a very sweet, affectionate and people-loving puppy, but he can be naughty and mischievous at the same time. He definitely has a big personality 🐕‍🦺

He might outgrow some of these habits in future, but we will always love every trait and every change in him. Every puppy is unique, and Taco is no exception.

To see Taco’s growth and life journey, follow his instagram @taco.labradoodle ❤️

One true sentence

Hemingway once said, if you have a blank paper in front of you and you struggle to write anything, “just write one true sentence.” Just one true statement. And then it will flow naturally.

“I feel very sad today” is my sentence.

Today I feel sad because it is raining heavily and I haven’t seen the sun for a few days. The sky is depressingly grey.

I feel sad because I was not invited to an interview for a job I thought I was fully qualified for. I spent hours on my cover letter and video resume. Years looking for a dream job.

I feel sad because the coffee did not taste good, and it did not wake me up. I look like a sloth, pushing myself to do something for the whole day.

I feel sad because I called the post office, and they still have zero information about my package which has been in transit for a month and 2 days precisely.

I feel sad because I finished watching the drama series Legend of the Blue Sea and I will never live this story with these characters again.

I feel sad because I tried to exercise today and had to switch from intermediate level core workout to a beginner one, and I was still out of breath. Out of shape.

I feel sad because, just because it is one of those days when you want to stay in bed and let the world wait.

And I thought I would not be able to write anything today. Everything starts with one true statement. It is so true.

Do you have a dream?

— Mom, do you have a dream?

— Dreams are for storytellers and helpless romantics.

— So are you saying it is a bad thing to have dreams in life?

— I am saying that it is better to have goals. Concrete, feasible aims and clear steps towards them.

— Dad always dreams.

— He dreams about impossible, unreal things. What’s the use of that?

— I don’t know. It makes him happy.

— Delusional happy. Nothing changes for him in reality. Don’t ever day-dream. Don’t waste your life.

— Have you ever had a dream?

— No, I don’t know how to dream. I don’t have enough imagination.

— So, even when you were a little kid, you never had a dear dream?

— Mm, the only thing I have ever dreamed of was to be like my sister, to look like her, to live her life, to always be together.

— You must have loved her so much.

— After she died, I stopped dreaming. Because dreaming is unreliable. You cannot control dreams. You will only get disappointed when your dreams are crushed in the brutal reality of the world.

Silence. What else can be said?

She went to her room, thinking, “If the world is so cruel, can the dreams be our comfort?”

“Unreliable, dangerous, useless, delusional,” she repeated the words without stop until she fell asleep. And in her dream, she saw her aunt take her hand and look deeply into her face. “Don’t be afraid to dream,” she said, “don’t be afraid to believe in the impossible.”

She woke up with a smile on her face and a dream in her heart.

So much time. So little time.

We have been together for 2,5 years. So many things have happened. So much time has passed since we met. So much I still haven’t said. So I am saying it now:

Thank you for being someone who came to my life when I least expected and most needed. I did not wait for you, but you came like a storm and swept me off my feet. I could not resist it. I did not want to stop it.

Thank you for being someone who has been committed from the first date. You made me part of your life from week 1. You introduced me to your friends in 2 weeks. You took me to meet your parents in 3 weeks. You took me on vacation in 4 weeks. You asked me to move in with you in a few months. You bought a house with me in a year. You asked me to share my life with you, forever.

Thank you for being someone who is so caring. You make me hot meal when I am sick. You hold my hand when I am sad. You let me sleep a bit longer. You make my tea a bit sweeter. You give me the best slice of cake.You put cream on my dry hands. You never let me carry heavy things. You ride a bike next to me even though you can go so much faster. You watch my favorite dramas with me even though you love comedy. You make me a bubble bath when I am tired. You bring me champagne for every little success I have. You are always here…when I need you, want you, miss you.

Thank you for being someone who made me believe in love again. I was lied, cheated, betrayed, misled so many times. I was broken. I unlearned to love. You were the one who showed me how to open my heart again. I learned how to love myself again and how to love you. You say, “I love you,” very often, but every time it is like the first time. Sometimes you are silent, but your hands say what you feel. I have never been touched so tenderly, so gently, so delicately. I have never been looked at with so much affection. I have never been desired so passionately. I have never been spoiled so regularly. I have never been loved so much.

Thank you for being someone who believed in me from the very beginning. You believe in my goals. You listen to my thoughts and ideas. You support my early steps in career. You share your experience. You look at my cover letters and resumes. You push me to do more blogging, more writing and creating every day. You boast to your family and friends about me. You are proud of my achievements. You cheer me up when I fail. You believe in me even when I do not believe in myself.

There are so many things I want to thank you for. So many more. I haven’t even mentioned the presents you give me, the dinners you cook for me, the trips you organize for me, the efforts you put for me to make our house the best home, the amount of hours you spend helping me achieve my dreams, the amount of love you give me every single day. Thank you for this all. Thank you for your love, for your care. For being who you are. Thank you for being the one.

So much time has passed since we met.

So little time has passed.

A whole life ahead of us…

zoom, zoom, zoom

My last class. My last zoom meeting with the students this semester. I turn off the camera, mute the microphone, relax my face, lean back on the chair, and finally put my feet on the desk – something I could never do in front of my students on zoom. It is such a liberating feeling to once again be completely yourself in your own office at home. No more worries about how messy my room looks (in case I forget to tidy it up the night before the class), how sleepy and a bit swollen my face looks because I have woken up literally 10 minutes before the zoom class, how ridiculous my sweatpants look underneath the desk as my students can only see a nice blouse on top, if the students can hear my boyfriend talking (very!) loudly on a business call in his office next door, if the WiFi is going to work through the entire class, if everyone has their cameras on and you are not just staring at yourself for two hours straight (very uncomfortable feeling, I have to say), if the planned seminar can be effectively delivered online or if it is a total disaster and I should definitely rethink the online lesson plan — all those if’s and how’s.

This sudden switch to online teaching has been a hell of a ride. Nobody was prepared for that. I remember on March 13 (three months ago already!), at 6:30 am I heard the usual, slightly annoying alarm sound, opened my eyes half way, took my phone and saw a message from my friend: on the radio, it was announced that all classes were suspended due to the pandemic. It was Friday. Everyone was happy to have an extra day off, but I had an anxious feeling that things were going to change drastically at the university (my sixth sense maybe). And next week, on Monday, the universities announced we had to deliver the rest of the Fall semester online. O-N-freaking-L-I-N-E.

I struggled a lot with this move. I was terrified to switch to online teaching. The rest of the Fall semester I taught offline, giving students writing assignments and refusing to organize online meetings. I have always struggled with the fear of public speaking, but I have managed to control it over the last 5 years of my university teaching (I still sweat every time before the class starts, but I am more used to that now). During my years of teaching, I have polished my lesson plans, teaching strategies, and techniques. I knew what I was doing, so my fear of public speaking subsided. Until the pandemic hit and the online teaching became a new norm. And the fear of something new and unknown hit me to the bottom. I remember I was angry for this switch. I was frustrated. I was completely lost. I cried a bit. I could not sleep at night. Anxiety just went 150%.

To be fair, everyone was stressed. Everyone at both universities where I am teaching. The first thing students and instructors noticed was how the universities started bombarding us with emails: every single day we would get a bunch of messages from ALL the departments imaginable about ALL sorts of policies and rules, next steps and decisions, suggestions and assumptions, pieces of advice and recommendations. Sometimes these messages were contradicting each other, which made it even more confusing for students and professors. Apart from that, as I am teaching at two different universities, I got conflicting, drastically different emails from them: one university would go this way, and the second would go another. Completely different strategies, procedures, regulations. I felt so exhausted by simply reading these emails every day.

And the students, poor students. Not only did they have to deal with the sudden switch to online delivery, many of them also had to move from their residencies and go back home, wherever home was. I got so many emails from students who were on the verge of crying because of the whole situation. Somebody had to vacate the dorm within 48 hours. Someone had to leave the country and be quarantined in another country for 14 days. Somebody’s parents lost jobs. I got such emails every other day at the end of the Fall semester. My students were stressed and shocked, and completely disoriented.

And at that moment, I realized that this was not about me. It was about the students who struggled the most and needed the most help. I instinctively understood that the biggest thing I could do was to stay connected with them. So when in two weeks, the Spring semester started, and I was asked to teach two courses, I decided to embrace my fear and do everything I could to make the classes as close to the real ones as possible. In a period of one week, I figured out how to use zoom, bought the last available Logitech camera at Walmart (camera were sold out like crazy everywhere), reconsidered how to teach the 3-month course in a period of 1 month or even less via zoom. I had to overcome my own anxiety of seeing students for the first time via camera and creating the positive atmosphere to discuss literature. Every single assignment, activity, group work, task, discussion that I have developed over 5 years had to be restructured for the online format. I recorded video lectures for my students to watch offline. I met my students online every single day. I had virtual office hours. I put every activity into a new format without sacrificing anything or removing it from the syllabus.

But, most importantly, I was always there for my students. And I felt like they needed that. I saw a lot of them suffering from isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. I felt they wanted to meet online. And even though for most of them, it was a required first-year course, I felt that at this moment of our life, at this unprecedented period, it was literature that connected us. We read poems, novels, and plays about human suffering, survival, and traumas and got inspired by the tremendous perseverance, strength, will, and an incredible spirit people demonstrate in the face of adversity. Whether a book was about the Holocaust or slavery, AIDS epidemic or homophobia, they all resonated with the students and made the events happening in the world – be it Covid-19 or protests – so significant, so relevant to all of us.

I am writing this post at the end of Spring semester, 2020, when I said goodbye to my students and waved at them for the last time on camera. I met these people virtually for the very first and last time, but the connection we built was real, absolute, and 100% authentic.